The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Reading memoirs about addiction, I was telling my wife, feels in some sense like watching reruns: most of them have pretty much the same elements, told in the same order. Horrifying tales of degradation and desperation; hitting bottom; false starts at recovery; resistance to the 12-step program; acceptance and a recognition that sobriety is tenuous. This doesn't in any way invalidate those stories, or make them trite; they continue to be moving and fascinating. (I watch A&E's Intervention weekly.) So I found Nic Sheff's TWEAK pretty much a replay of James Frey's famous A MILLION LITTLE PIECES (yes, yes, I know, "except that it's true," or at least we think, until the time we find that Sheff altered some things...). One difference is that Sheff, for all of his false modesty, really isn't much of a writer. He's certainly not much of a stylist, and apparently Ginee Seo Books isn't spending much money on copyediting, given the grammatical errors in the prose. Sheff's story is, predictably, shocking and horrifying, sad and pathetic, and in the end hopeful.

His father's much more famous (and well promoted) memoir, BEAUTIFUL BOY, is a different matter. It's the father's point of view on Nic's story, prefaced by long stories of Nic's upbringing, his parents' divorce, and the dad's perspective on what drove Nic to drugs. It was much tougher to deal with, just because the prospect of seeing either one of my boys in Nic's situation is terrifying.

The third memoir I read, Shalom Auslander's FORESKIN'S LAMENT, was by far my favorite. Auslander is a frequent contributor to THIS AMERICAN LIFE, and I love his pieces on that show, but his memoir is a tour de force. It's hilarious (and the fact that I listened to it as an audiobook, and it was read by Auslander himself, really helped--although his voice doesn't rise to Sedaris level in terms of really adding a dimension to the prose, it's on that scale).



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